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Ankita Durani and Joseph Zekry both arrived in the Netherlands in 2013. Durani relocated from India to study and join her family. Zekry, after several international experiences after leaving his home country, Egypt, started working at ASML. A few years later, their paths crossed, as Durani joined ASML, where she still works. Zekry started his own consulting company, ZekryTech, putting his expertise to work for companies. 

Durani and Zekry are the co-founders of iBUILT – an acronym for international Business & Innovation Leaders in Tech – a community for expat leaders and entrepreneurs to develop their careers and grow their companies. The platform aims to connect professionals in the Eindhoven area so that they can develop, collaborate, and learn from each other. On September 19, the community will have its official launch event for the first edition of the Common Ground for Innovation Awards, an accolade for impactful expats in the region. But before delving into it, as with every episode of Dutch Diaries, IO asked a few questions about their experience living in the Netherlands. 

Dutch Diaries

Getting a job opportunity, moving to a new country, and settling in are three moments every expat has experienced. But how does the Netherlands look in the eyes of the foreigners who move here for work? In our new series, Dutch Diaries, we bring the stories of expats who moved to the Netherlands to work in the tech and innovation sectors. Why did they decide to come here? What do they like the most about the Netherlands? What would they change?

Having lived for over a decade in the Netherlands, you matured quite an experience in the tech sector. What’s your take on it? 

Durani: “If you are someone like us who is crazy about science, I think it’s the perfect place. I always wanted to work in science, so choosing Eindhoven and the Netherlands was easy. Besides, I see many opportunities in the different sides of tech.”

Zekry: “What I like about the ecosystem here is the research orientation. People want to go deep into technology. In the US ecosystem, where I studied for a while, people are interested in technology mainly to make money. People here are not hasty in deploying tech to the market but try to understand its value and the mechanisms behind it.”

Is there a Dutch habit or policy you find challenging to get used to? 

Durani: “Something I really liked immediately after moving to the Netherlands was the habit of hearing everyone’s view during discussions. It is very positive because everybody feels valued. However, during the decision-making process, it can cause many delays. I sometimes struggle with striking a balance since I’d like everyone to be heard yet bring efficiency in decision-making.”

Zekry: “The Dutch people’s ability to separate work from social life. People interact and are open to discussing all topics during work, but there is no relationship at all once the workday ends. Not being friends with someone you work with feels strange to me. On the one hand, it’s admirable, and the quality of life certainly benefits from it. On the other, it requires meticulous social and work-life planning, and for expats, it can be quite difficult.”

What is a habit you would bring to the Netherlands from your country?

Durani: “Occasionally bringing food from home to the workplace. Although I haven’t worked in India, we had this habit in high school, and I hear from friends who live there that they have this practice at work, too. People share recipes and bonds. Dutch people could benefit too; it’s rather difficult to bond over cold sandwiches!”

Zekry: “In Egypt, your colleagues become part of your family. The level of solidarity is high; if someone gets married, work colleagues are invited to the wedding. If someone has a baby, work colleagues buy presents. The Dutch work environment can benefit from a higher sense of community and solidarity.”

How Dutch do you feel? 

Durani: “If I don’t have a schedule, I can go crazy. A few months ago, a cousin of mine was getting married, and we had to organize a dance choreography with the other cousins. So I went to plan it with a strong Dutch attitude, announcing that I would have to call them on a set date and time. ‘Just pick up the phone; you don’t have to schedule a meeting with us,’ they said. I have definitely become very Dutch in the time management aspect.”

Zekry: “ Similarly to Ankita, being in the Netherlands affected my discipline and planning, but I don’t feel Dutch or Belgian (Zekry has a Belgian passport, ed.). The concept of citizenship has evolved, as has the idea of belonging to one place or another. I have also become more direct in what I need and expect from others. I learned ways of communicating that I didn’t learn anywhere else. Here, if you’re walking along the street and your shoelace is loose, people would come to you and tell you to tie your shoelace. In Egypt, that would be considered rude.”

Coming to iBUILT, how did the idea come to be? 

Durani: “ Even though I am part of a community of young professionals within ASML, where I bonded with people and connected with the city, I felt something more was needed on a higher level, especially for expats. When they come here, they have ideas of growing in their career and in their business. But where is that one community that they can fall back on to discuss their career growth or build their own companies? Then I met Joseph, who had the same feeling, and we started working on it.”

Zekry: “During the executive MBA I’m studying, I was challenged to use my knowledge, status, and network to give back to society. So I thought: ‘What would I have needed from this ecosystem five, six, or ten years ago? Companies tend to sketch borders, and it can be limiting. So the idea is to bring people from all nationalities together, remove as many barriers, learn from each other and give expats a community where they can feel at home.”

What can people expect from iBUILT? 

Zekry: “They should expect something that a company or a social club can’t give: a place to connect with people experiencing similar challenges. Our goal is to bring all possible resources (network and knowledge ed.) for expats to grow at a comparable pace as the locals.”

Durani: “The common ground is the passion for technology. Expats that come here and the locals share the same drive, which we will be building on rather than just focusing on the differences.”

Do you see yourself living in the Netherlands in five years?

Zekry: “Yes. I know how to navigate the ecosystem, and I’m aware of the shortcomings and the work-life balance, as well as how to take initiative.”

Durani: “I definitely see myself living in the Netherlands long-term. It’s not the ideal place, but it comes close.”